Those who wanted to March 4 Justice yesterday were determined to have their voices heard and not even, at times, torrential rain could stem the flow of people who stood up to be counted.
Around 300 marchers gathered in Lismore – they did a lap walking a town block before returning to the transit centre to listen to speeches from many women.
Huge turnout exceeded the expectations
Lismore marcher Louise Somerville said it was a huge turnout that exceeded the expectations of organisers. ‘The crowd listened to and wept hearing speakers’ accounts of appalling sexual abuse,’ she said, ‘We were pleased with the turnout and support of so many behind the scenes.’
Jex Lopez sang and there was a Chilean Women’s Chant performance and many other speakers before the delegation of Carol Shipard, Louise Somerville and Ally Waters delivered a petition demanding changes matching those of March4Justice.org to Kevin Hogan’s office asking for a response by March 31.
Powerful, moving and positive
Mayor Vanessa Ekins said the march was really powerful, moving and positive. ‘Some women spoke bravely about their experiences of sexual abuse and it felt like a supportive environment. It’s so important that these experiences are shared so that people don’t feel isolated and alone.’
Ms Ekins spoke about how the laws need changing. ‘They provide the right to complain about sexual harassment or abuse but do not provide the positive right for a workplace free of it. The onus is on the complainant and this needs to shift so the workplace is responsible for making a safe environment.’
Ms Ekins also said that the federal government has seriously let us down. ‘The attorney general is accused of rape. He is in charge of law and justice and the very legislation that we seek to change, and he needs to resign. The prime minister needs to show some leadership and act to ensure his workplace, our federal parliament is a safe workplace.’
Ms Ekins said she feels it is important to gather together, support each other and to share experiences. ‘Our young people need to understand that sexual harassment is endemic in our culture and our laws are not protecting us and this needs to change.’
Hundreds in Mullumbimby
From couples with young babies to grandmothers with floral dresses and well-set grey curls, around 1,000 women, men, and children gathered in Mullumbimby on Monday, despite the rain, to raise their voices together to say ‘enough is enough’.
It is time to put an end to a culture that excuses violence against women, that excuses the rape of women, that tells them to be silent. It is time to call to account not only the men responsible but the culture that allows it to flourish, even in Australia’s parliament house.
‘I am outraged, but not surprised, at what is happening in parliament house,’ Belle Budden, a local of Wakka Wakka descent, told the crowd at Mullumbimby’s Civic Centre Hall, referring to the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins and accusations against Attorney-General Christian Porter.
First law officer accused of sexual assault
‘The first law officer of this country has been accused of sexual assault. While this is under investigation he should be stood down.
‘If he were a sports coach, a hospital worker, he would be stood down while the investigation took place.’
The support of good men was acknowledged by the speakers, who recognised that the Fight 4 Justice was one that needed all people to come together to move forward and remake our cultural systems.
PM ‘too busy’ to talk to women
During the speeches and march it became known that the Australian prime minister was ‘too busy’ to talk to the women who had brought the March 4 Justice to Canberra. That the minister for women would not come and meet the women of her country to receive their petition and hear their call for safety against rape and violence.
The outrage of the crowd was palpable that their own elected officials, those who claimed to represent them, chose not to listen, not to acknowledge, the thousands of women who were calling for justice around the country.
Local MPs Tamara Smith of Ballina, Janelle Saffin of Lismore and Federal MP Justine Elliot for Richmond all sent support for the marchers, stating that they would support them in Canberra.
‘I commit to march with you in the halls of Parliament, taking the voices of all into the caucus rooms, onto the floor of the Parliament in debate, and to make the legislative and policy changes that will bring justice for women,’ said MP Saffin.
Scott Morrison’s “rule of law”
‘The prime minister Scott Morrison seems tone-deaf to the current conversation, claiming that he is protecting the “rule of law”.
‘The rule of law was not violated when the sexual harassment allegations against Justice Dyson Heydon were subjected to a High Court-instigated inquiry.
‘And the rule of law would not be violated if the prime minister instigated an inquiry into allegations against attorney-general Christian Porter.
‘I know what the rule of law is. I wrote 18 teaching modules on the rule of law. I taught the rule of law. The rule of law requires due process, and importantly, also accountability – accountability that is not being afforded here.’
Rape and murder
Calling for a change to the law at the Mullumbimby rally was Eileen Culleton, the sister of murdered rape victim Anne-Marie Culleton. She is calling for national law reform and seeking life sentencing for rapist murderers.
‘I am calling on the prime minister to step up and show leadership and call for this national law reform,’ Eileen Culleton said.
Eileen said federal attorney-general Christian Porter had dismissed her petition request to him to put the law reform on the national agenda of the next Council of Attorney Generals (AG) meeting with the state AGs.
‘Disappointingly, Christian Porter dismissed my petition, saying it is a matter for the states,’Ms Culleton said.
‘Yet he had the power to set the agenda. And he had the mandate to do that because Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the 2018 committee report called for national law reform to address this national crisis of violence against women.
Porter under the cloud of a rape allegation
‘Christian Porter is on leave under the cloud of a rape allegation, the latest of many to rock federal parliament, which is why we are all here marching. Women have had enough of the federal government’s dismissive attitude to sexual assault crimes.
‘Australia has a national crisis of violence against women. One in five women in Australia are sexually assaulted and one woman a week is murdered,’ she said.
‘So now I’m calling on the prime minister Scott Morrison to step up and show leadership.
‘Life sentencing for murder with sexual assault is the strongest message Australia can send that we have a zero tolerance for rape crimes.
‘Rape is a gender hate-crime perpetrated against women. The crime of rape and murder is an intentional hate crime of the most heinous kind.
‘My petition calls for mandatory life sentencing with no parole for rapist murderers because they should never get a second chance to repeat their crime,’ she told the crowd.
The petition can be accessed at: https://www.change.org/
Lismore photos Duncan Wilson – Mullumbimby photos Jeff Dawson